April 13, 2009
December 2, 2006
Criterion DVD
France / Italy
French / Italian / English
86 Minutes
Catherine Breillat [Last Tango In Paris; A Real Young Girl; 36 Fillette; Perfect Love; Romance; The Last Mistress]

An overweight 12-year-old girl observes her pretty, 15-year-old sister’s sexual initiation on a summer holiday.

Elena and Anais are sisters. Elena is 15 and beautiful. Anais is 12 and pudgy. Elena is only allowed by their parents to leave the vacation home if she takes her younger sister along. At a sidewalk cafe, she meets an Italian law student who offers the two girls a place to sit, and then buys them something from the menu. Anais picks a banana split (“my favorite”). Elena spends her time sharing cigarettes and flirting with the older man. Anais directs her attention to the ice cream. Anais is forced to wait at the driveway for Elena to finish with her “date”. Having just met each other is no reason to avoid a heavy makeout session before Elena is dropped off.

Elena has arranged for Fernando to sneak into the window of the bedroom both girls share. “Don’t embarrass me,” she says to her younger sister. “I have better things to do than worry about your sexual activity,” Anais replies. But the room isn’t very big and the private, persuasive pillow-talk is heard easily by Anais who pretends to be sleeping, but then watches as her older sister gives in to his advances — almost all the way. The younger sister is less intrigued or aroused than she is full of pity for her sister, who she later tells is making a mistake by actually caring about the man who is about to take her virginity.

Anais declares that she would rather have her first sexual experience with a stranger so that she won’t be attached to him, thereby taking away most of his masculine power. The young caressing couple speaks often about how she’ll never forget him and how he’s incredibly honored to be allowed the privilege of deflowering her. When she says no to a sexual advance, he says all the words that every man has used on every woman from the beginning of time. “This will be a proof of your love,” is a favorite he repeats several times. Though he seems sophisticated to the two girls, we see him for the sniveling, immature boy that he is. He steals a ring from his mother to give to Elena as proof of his “love.” An awkward exchange occurs when she pounds on the front door demanding its return.

In between the sexual give-and-take, there are honest scenes between the two sisters. They vary in their sisterly closeness. Sometimes, giggling together on the bed, recalling funny family experiences. Sometimes, telling each other that they are the only person they trust. And then Elena will remark while looking in the mirror that no one would guess that they were related. Anais is an extremely touching character. She play-acts a relationship with two men using items in the pool area, promising that her heart belongs to each of them. She is clumsy and has none of the glamor of her older sister. She is loved by her parents, but ridiculed a bit by them as well.

Breillat has again delved into the mind of the adolescent female, this time in two radically different characters. One who feels wise to the ways of men, but with little chance to act on her desires. The other, unable to control her power over men–when she sees how she effects them, she seems to want to believe them.

Virginity-losing films made in Hollywood are rarely done from the girl’s point of view. And they are almost always a light-hearted comedy where the act itself is shown to be nothing like the importance given to it. This film is different. This film is better.

“Elena is 15, old enough to understand the effect of her beauty on males, young enough to feel insecure and confused over how to lose her virginity to the right person. Her 12-year-old sister Anais, on the other hand, is fat, envious and insists that, when the time comes, she’d rather give herself to a stranger. Holidaying with their parents, the girls reach a new phase in their bickering when Elena starts seeing Italian law student Fernando, whose determination to have sex involves smooth talk that may persuade Elena of his romantic intentions, but doesn’t fool little sister, reluctant witness to his siegecraft from her bed across the room. What if mom or dad were to find out? Breillat’s typically tough but sensitive study of sisterly rivalry may be less philosophical in tone — not to mention less visually explicit — than its predecessor ROMANCE, but it remains notable for its refusal to provide a facile, politically correct account of adolescent experience. As psychological portrait and social critique, the film offers cruelly honest insights. Dark, disturbing and hugely impressive, it’s made all the more lucid by superb performances from the two young actresses.” — Time Out Film Guide 2007

“It is not merely that a boy will tell a girl almost anything to get her into bed, but that a girl will pretend to believe almost anything, because she is curious, too. FAT GIRL, seemingly more innocent, at times almost like one of those sophisticated French movies about an early summer of love, turns out to be more painful and shocking than we anticipate. It is like life, which has a way of interrupting our plans with its tragic priorities.” — ***^ Roger Ebert

“An often observant study of adolescent sexuality and sibling relationships vitiated by its violent ending.” * Halliwell’s Film Guide 2008

“Potent drama from the always-provocative Breillat explores the complex relationship between two sisters, aged 15 and 12, who (like all the director’s heroines) are obsessed by sex. The older one is pretty and desirable; the other may be plump and miserable, but has her own yearnings. Breillat offers a voice to the title character, a type who is usually the object of scorn or ridicule. Features graphic sex scenes and an unsettling finale.” — *** Leonard Maltin’s 2007 Movie Guide

*** Berardinelli
7.7 Metacritic
6.4 IMDB

Fat Girl – Criterion Collection @ Amazon


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Written by Michael W. Cummins